A BOUQUET OF MOTHER’S DAY POEMS

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“Destitute peapickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children. February 1936.” Photographer: Dorothea Lang

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In life, meaning is sometimes lost in repetition, as habit and pattern replace mindfulness.

But not so with Mother’s Day, which reaches beyond commerce and sentimentality and stirs in us something genuine and deeply rooted.

I attended the wedding of an exuberant young couple yesterday, with a large group of family and friends. It was so festive and joyful. So hopeful. Everyone’s eyes were on the bride, of course. She was impossibly lovely. And even as I shared this happy, happy event with the bride and her new husband, I could imagine her future; I looked at her knowing that motherhood awaits her. I know that she can’t begin to imagine all the ways that motherhood will transform her.

This transformation, and a woman’s acceptance of it, is part of what we celebrate on Mother’s Day: the giving of oneself  to what Khalil Gibran called “Life’s longing for itself“. We celebrate the most foundational relationship of our lives. We celebrate the cradle of love.

I’ve chosen poems that speak of the full spectrum of motherhood and the mother-child relationship.

In these first two poems, one from WB Yeats, and the other from Langston Hughes, it is the mother’s voice we hear:

THE SONG OF THE OLD MOTHER, William Butler Yeats

I rise in the dawn, and I kneel and blow
Till the seed of the fire flicker and glow; 
And then I must scrub and bake and sweep
Till stars are beginning to blink and peep; 
And the young lie long and dream in their bed
Of the matching of ribbons for bosom and head,
And their ~y goes over in idleness,
And they sigh if the wind but lift a tress:
While I must work because I am old,
And the seed of the fire gets feeble and cold. 

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From the Dorothea Lang “Migrant Mother” series.

Mother to Son, Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time 
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. 

The steadfastness of a mother’s love means everything, but there are times when life is so hard, and our weariness so profound, that we feel as though even that has disappeared:

SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD (American Negro Spiritual)

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child

A long ways from home

A long ways from home

True believer

A long ways from home

A long ways from home

 

Sometimes I feel like I’m almos’ gone

Sometimes I feel like I’m almos’ gone

Sometimes I feel like I’m almos’ gone

Way up in de heab’nly land

Way up in de heab’nly land

True believer
Way up in de heab’nly land

Way up in de heab’nly land

 

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long ways from home

There’s praying everywhere

***

In those moments, we long to return to that time in our lives when we were children, shielded by our mother’s love.

ROCK ME TO SLEEP, Elizabeth Akers Allen, 1832-1911075a81402e5539fe718f6a631095645e

Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,

Make me a child again just for tonight!

Mother,come back from the echoless shore,

Take me again to your heart as of yore;

Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,

Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;

Over my slumbers your loving watch keep;

Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

***

Backward, flow backward, O tide of the years!

I am so weary of toil and of tears,

Toil without recompense, tears all in vain,

Take them, and give me my childhood again!

I have grown weary of dust and decay,

Weary of flinging my soul-wealth away;

Weary of sowing for others to reap;

Rock me to sleep, mother — rock me to sleep!

***

Tired of the hollow, the base, the untrue,

Mother, O mother, my heart calls for you!

Many a summer the grass has grown green,

Blossomed and faded, our faces between:

Yet, with strong yearning and passionate pain,

Long I tonight for your presence again.

Come from the silence so long and so deep;  

Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

***

Over my heart, in the days that are flown,

No love like mother-love ever has shone;

No other worship abides and endures,    

Faithful, unselfish, and patient like yours:

None like a mother can charm away pain

From the sick soul and the world-weary brain.

Slumber’s soft calms o’er my heavy lids creep;    

Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

***

Come, let your brown hair, just lighted with gold,

Fall on your shoulders again as of old;

Let it drop over my forehead tonight,

Shading my faint eyes away from the light;

For with its sunny-edged shadows once more

Haply will throng the sweet visions of yore;

Lovingly, softly, its bright billows sweep;

 Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

***

Mother, dear mother, the years have been long

Since I last listened your lullaby song:

Sing, then, and unto my soul it shall seem

Womanhood’s years have been only a dream.

Clasped to your heart in a loving embrace,

With your light lashes just sweeping my face,

Never hereafter to wake or to weep;

Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

***

MOTHER O’MINE, by Rudyard Kipling

If I were hanged on the highest hill, sculptures-jay-rotberg-parent-child-mother-s-love-sculpture-bronze-jmrimag-035-226sma
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

In the end, a mother’s love is meant to be celebrated!

TO MY MOTHER, Robert Louis Stevenson

You too, my mother, read my rhymes

For love of unforgotten times,

And you may chance to hear once more

The little feet along the floor.

[SONNETS ARE FULL OF LOVE, AND THIS MY TOME]Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)Singing-Heart

Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome

Has many sonnets: so here now shall be

One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me

To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home,

To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee

I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;

Whose service is my special dignity,

And she my loadstar while I go and come

And so because you love me, and becauseI love you,

Mother, I have woven a wreath

Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honored name:

In you not fourscore years can dim the flame

Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws

Of time and change and mortal life and death.

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Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, altarpiece, ca. 1504 Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio or Santi) (Italian, Marchigian, 1483–1520) Oil and gold on wood

TO MY MOTHERChristina Rossetti

To-day’s your natal day;
Sweet flowers I bring:
Mother, accept, I pray
My offering.

And may you happy live,
And long us bless;
Receiving as you give
Great happiness.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!

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